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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Big Clock

Kenneth Fearing

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Title: The Big Clock
Author: Kenneth Fearing
Genre: Novel
Written: 1946
Length: 166 pages
Availability: The Big Clock - US
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DVD: The Big Clock - US
  • The Big Clock has been made into a film twice: as The Big Clock (1948), directed by John Farrow and starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, and Maureen O'Sullivan, and as No Way Out (1987), directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Iman, and Fred Dalton Thompson

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid noose-tightening suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Big Clock has a killer premise. George Stroud is the executive editor of Crimeways, one of the jewels in the publishing empire of Janoth Enterprises. Stroud gets involved with the girlfriend of his boss, Earl Janoth, and that girlfriend gets killed. Stroud saw Janoth go into her building and he knows Janoth did it -- and Janoth knows someone saw him, but not who. Janoth knows he has to find the man and so he sets his enormous staff on the trail of the unidentified witness -- and puts Stroud in charge.
       The trail is pretty hot, and the staff too good not to close in on the truth, and all Stroud can do is subtly misdirect his pursuers. The noose tightens beautifully -- though the ultimate resolution is a bit too convenient.
       The novel is narrated in the first person, mostly by George himself, but some of the chapters are from Janoth's and some of the other players' perspectives. The approach threatens to over-explain matters, as the real fun is when George carries on, unsure of exactly where he stands (and it's most fun to watch him sweat and squirm). Nevertheless, the suspense is ratcheted up bit by bit fairly effectively.
       Fearing tosses in quite a bit more, from Janoth's secret that led to his murderous rage to the significance of George being an art collector devoted to a specific artist. There are one or two coincidences too many, and Fearing occasionally gets too playful (George's wife is named Georgette, their daughter Georgia ...), but the central story is strong enough to carry readers easily past all that. George's philosophical side (which includes his idea of 'the big clock') is a nice touch, too, and fits well in the story of a man trying to save his skin.
       Fearing has a good, hard-edged style, and George's voice -- the dominant one -- is an interesting one. (Some of the other voices make too brief an appearance and are almost distracting, as Fearing seems to have been unsure just how far to take the multi-voice approach.) There are some fun asides, from business-talk to the boredom of sitting in a bar waiting for someone to show up (one staffer takes War and Peace along on an assignment). Fearing perhaps adds a bit much colour and quirkiness, but in the general suspense it doesn't stand out that badly.
       Good fun, and worthwhile.

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The Big Clock: Reviews: The Big Clock - the film: No Way Out - the film: Other books by Kenneth Fearing under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Kenneth Fearing lived 1902 to 1961.

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